Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Causes, Treatment Symptoms and Diagnosis

A Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Overview

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

stressed man with PTSD and papers and charts sitting at table in office

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder, that can be brought on by experiencing an event that a person found distressing, frightening, or highly stressful. A person living with PTSD will often have flashbacks of this traumatic event and must deal with a lot of emotional upset, like feelings of guilt, isolation and irritability. This condition can also have other complications, such as sleeping disorders.

PTSD symptoms can have a severe impact on a person’s life and can disrupt their day to day living. It can be caused by an event that deeply affects a person, such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse, experiencing torture, witnessing something traumatic happening to someone else, being in a natural disaster etc. Each person is different, and while some may naturally be able to come to terms with the event on their own, there are some that continue to struggle with the memory of what happened.

It is not known why some people develop PTSD, treatments are available however, that could greatly improve symptoms or help to completely eradicate them entirely. Most people in the UK are not aware that they might qualify for free treatment for PTSD, so contact our team today on 020 3870 4868. You can also use our online contact form to arrange a time for us to call you back.

Select A Section

  1. An Overview Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  2. What Is PTSD?
  3. Types Of PTSD
  4. Who Can Suffer From PTSD?
  5. Common Causes And Triggers
  6. Signs And Symptoms
  7. How Is PTSD Diagnosed?
  8. Short-Term And Long-Term Effects
  9. When To Seek Medical Attention
  10. How To Treat PTSD
  11. PTSD Statistics
  12. Call Us Today For Free Treatment
  13. Additional Reading

An Overview Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD by definition is an anxiety disorder that occurs as a result of severe trauma. This literally refers to the emotional stress felt following a particularly traumatic event. Symptoms of PTSD include vivid flashbacks to the event, regularly feeling guilt, anger, fear and other emotions, and having dreams or nightmares about the event.

What qualifies as a traumatic event is different for everyone, and not everyone involved in a traumatic event will develop PTSD. The NHS stated that about one in three people will develop PTSD from a traumatic experience. There are many kinds of accident that a person may find traumatic. You could develop PTSD after an attack, such as being a victim of criminal or domestic violence, serious health issues that put you in intensive care, among many others. PTSD will not usually result from something upsetting, like a break-up or losing your job or something valuable.

Though each person may take a different length of time to recover, treatments are available that can help to completely heal this condition. These treatments can include medication, as well as psychological therapy. Knowing the signs and symptoms can help you to know when it might be time to seek medical advice. This guide will cover the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of PTSD, to try and give you as much information as you may need if you think you might be living with PTSD.

What Is PTSD?

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that develops when a person experiences an event that affects them mentally, emotionally, physically, or a combination of all three. It was initially recognised in soldiers returning from war and conflict. PTSD in veterans used to be referred to as shell shock, over time however, it has been acknowledged that anyone who goes through a highly distressing event can develop PTSD.

When a person experiences a traumatic event, they can often have feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, shock and guilt. In most people, these kinds of feelings can pass with time without any extra help. However, PTSD causes some people to keep going through those feelings. In fact, they can refuse to pass at all, or even become more intense. This can lead to people having flashbacks, reliving the event, and feeling all the emotions they had when it happened.

These feelings and flashbacks become so intense, that it can stop a person from functioning normally and living normal lives. Depending on the type of PTSD you have, the symptoms can be more or less intense. The treatment you receive will also depend on how severe your symptoms are.

Types Of PTSD

Each person reacts differently to a traumatic event, and similarly, not all cases of PTSD are the same. Below we have included the five most common types of PTSD.

Normal Stress Response

Normal stress response does not always result in PTSD. It is a common reaction to a frightening, or distressing event that every person goes through, but when the symptoms of normal stress response do not fade over time, it could develop into PTSD. This can involve symptoms like numbness, feeling separated from reality, or isolated from relationships, as well as some physical feelings of muscle tension and distress.

Acute Stress Disorder

This type is similar to normal stress response, in that it doesn’t always result in a person developing PTSD, but it is more intense and less common. This can be felt by a person who has been involved in an event that resulted in a threat to their life, the loss of a loved one or been exposed to death. This type manifests as panic attacks, insomnia, paranoia, and difficulty in pursuing life as normal.

Uncomplicated PTSD

This type is where PTSD flashbacks begin to occur, and the person often relives the specific event that has traumatised them. The person will also actively try to avoid anything that reminds them of the event, and can experience feelings of anger, irritation, loss of hope for the future, and often feel like their safety is compromised.

Comorbid PTSD

This is when a person who has developed PTSD also has another mental health issue or has an addiction to alcohol or drugs. This type of PTSD will present similar symptoms as uncomplicated PTSD but can be made more problematic as it runs alongside a pre-existing condition that also requires treatment.

Complex PTSD

Complex PTSD is more common in those that have experienced their trauma at a young age. This type of PTSD may not surface for some time after the event and is the most difficult form of PTSD to treat. People with this type will usually experience symptoms like borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, depression, amnesia, as well as all of the symptoms associated with uncomplicated PTSD.

Who Can Suffer From Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Anyone can develop PTSD, meaning that children, teenagers, adults, civilians, soldiers, police, rescue workers, anyone that has been through trauma, could develop PTSD. There are a lot of people, no matter what age and background, that can manage to overcome trauma over time, with a good support network around them. However, there are some cases where the emotions don’t fade, and the person may need extra help in understanding what happened, and in processing their thoughts and emotions.

There are some people who might be more vulnerable to developing PTSD following a traumatic event, and this can include those who have been exposed to abuse as a child, or those who have been repeatedly exposed to situations that threaten their lives. It is also thought that there might be a genetic connection in being prone to PTSD. For example, if one of your parents had a mental health issue you might be predisposed to developing PTSD following trauma.

Common Causes And Triggers

PTSD can stem from many different types of trauma. For example, you could develop PTSD from an abusive relationship. It is also common for people to develop PTSD after an accident, such as a car crash. For those who have been diagnosed with PTSD, they can be more sensitive to what are known as triggers.

A trigger is described as something that reminds a person of the trauma they experienced, and is a catalyst for a flashback, or a panic attack. For example, a trigger for a veteran soldier might be loud noises, such as fireworks. A person can also be very reactive to things on or around the date an event happened.

PTSD triggers can vary for each person and can often be very personal. Triggers are not always obvious either or might not always make sense. They can include smells, sounds, things people say, scenes in movies, specific songs, or anything that can remind you of the trauma. Although it is a common symptom of PTSD for a person to actively avoid them, identifying your triggers can be very important as you start to treat your PTSD.

The NHS have highlighted a possible cause as a change in the physical make-up of the brain. In those with PTSD, a brain scan shows that a section of the brain becomes smaller following a traumatic event. This section is called the hippocampus and is used for processing flashbacks and nightmares. When it malfunctions the feelings of fear and anxiety don’t pass naturally over time without help.

Signs And Symptoms

PTSD signs can begin to occur in the first month following trauma, but there is no time limit to when you can begin to see symptoms develop. In some cases, with historical or childhood trauma, symptoms might not surface for years. Each experience of this disorder is different for each person. This means that it is difficult to determine what kind of symptoms a person may or may not experience if they have PTSD. Below is a list of some common PTSD signs and symptoms, divided into categories that reflect how they affect the person.

Reliving An Event

This where a person will re-experience an event in very vivid way. It can include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Images of the trauma that keep re-occurring
  • Sensations they felt at the time, like sweating, nausea, shaking or pain
  • Nightmares
  • Constantly revisiting the event in their mind, asking themselves if they could have stopped it, or got revenge

Increased Arousal

This refers to a state of mind where your emotions are greatly heightened. You might describe it as always feeling on edge or expecting something to happen. A person feeling this way will usually be easily startled and prone to angry outbursts. In this state a person will find it hard to sleep or concentrate.

Avoidance

This symptom is where a person will make an effort to avoid anything that might remind them of the event. This can mean avoiding triggers, as well as trying not to talk about what happened. This can sometimes lead to a person attempting to push memories and reminders out of their mind and becoming what is known as emotionally numb. This can also lead to people isolating themselves from relationships or situations, as well as giving up hobbies they enjoyed before the event.

Other Common Symptoms

There are other symptoms that might be present in a person living with PTSD. They include depression, physical symptoms like nausea, pain, dizziness and headaches. They might also display self-destructive behaviour, such as abusing alcohol and drugs, or self-harming.

Children can experience many of the symptoms that adults do, and in some cases might not display symptoms until they reach adulthood. Other symptoms children could display include, headaches, stomach aches, recreating the event through play, and displaying difficult behaviour.

How Is PTSD Diagnosed?

PTSD will usually not be tested until at least one month after a traumatic event. This is because when most people go through trauma, they will exhibit similar symptoms to those with PTSD, which usually fade after about four weeks. In those who develop PTSD, the symptoms don’t fade after a month.

When the doctor sees you for the first time, they will establish a personal and medical history. They will also perform a physical examination to rule out the possibility that a physical illness is causing the symptoms. After they have determined that your symptoms are not related to anything physical, they will usually refer you to a psychologist or mental health professional that is qualified to diagnose your condition.

Although there is no actual PTSD test, your doctor may conduct specialist interviews and assessments to help understand your symptoms, your experiences and identify the possible causes. A diagnosis will then usually be based on the symptoms you report to the doctor, and depending on the intensity of your symptoms, they will diagnose a particular type of PTSD.

Short-Term And Long-Term Effects

Recovery from PTSD can take a different length of time for each person. The process is gradual and takes time to improve your symptoms. Some people can experience a significant level of recovery early on, but others may have symptoms that reappear for the rest of their lives.

In some people there is a possibility of returning to normal. In others, though they may still experience symptoms over time, treatments and medication can greatly improve their ability to cope with them and have a good quality of life.

When To Seek Medical Attention

There are many symptoms and experiences associated with having PTSD. Due to this fact, it can be difficult for a person to know when they should seek medical assistance. There are some more serious symptoms that, if present, should be treated with medical help.

If you go through a traumatic event, it is normal for you to go through some symptoms like shock, fear, anger, etc. But if the symptoms don’t begin to fade after about four weeks, it might be a good idea to see a doctor. This is especially true if you have been through trauma, and then begin to feel like there’s no point in living, or if you begin to have thoughts of hurting yourself.

The emotions attributed to PTSD can be complicated and hard to discuss, but it is recommended that you seek medical advice/attention if you begin to display any of the above symptoms following a traumatic event.

How To Treat PTSD

Due to the nature of the symptoms of this condition, there is no single method for how to treat PTSD. Each treatment plan is usually personalised for an individual’s needs and the severity of their symptoms. Some treatments for PTSD can cure symptoms, or at least reduce them to the point where a person can live normally. There are several methods that can be used in treating PTSD, and they may use one or a combination of each.

Watchful Waiting

This is the method applied when a person is displaying symptoms of PTSD but are still within four weeks of the traumatic event. This is where a person will monitor their own symptoms in the time after the trauma, and then report back to their doctor in a follow up appointment four weeks after the event.

Psychological Therapies

This is the step that is taken when a person has been diagnosed with PTSD that requires treatment from a mental health professional. This type of treatment is the most varied, and which psychological therapy you receive will depends on your needs and the intensity of your symptoms.

The first of these psychological therapies is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This is where a therapist will try to help the person think differently about their trauma. They will encourage the person to face their experience upfront and talk them through feelings they may have about it. This therapy works on the evidence that changing the mindset and the way a person thinks about the event could help them come to terms with what happened and lessen the effect the memories could have on them

Another therapy is Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR). This therapy works by speaking about the traumatic event while following a moving object with your eyes as it is moved side to side. Although it is not known why, this treatment is known for reducing symptoms in those with PTSD.

The last common psychological therapy is group therapy. Group therapy involves a group of people with similar experiences coming together and openly talking about their trauma. There are different groups for different experiences, which allow people to reflect on their memories as well as see how others are dealing with theirs.

Medication

Treating PTSD with medication is usually only necessary if the person is not responding well to psychological therapy. It may also be used if a person already has a pre-existing condition, like depression, that might stop them from benefiting properly from psychological therapy. Some medication could include antidepressants like mirtazapine, sertraline, or paroxetine.

PTSD Statistics

A 2014 survey conducted by the NHS collected data over the course of one month. That data highlighted how many people experienced trauma as opposed to how many developed PTSD as a result. The results have been split into men and women of different ages.

 Men %Women %
AgeExperienced TraumaExperienced PTSD Experienced Trauma Experienced PTSD
16 - 14 17.93.632.812.6
25 – 34 28.74.730.56.2
35 – 44 33.74.429.44.7
45 – 54 38.64.232.14.8
55 – 64 35.85.034.12.5
65 – 74 34.81.129.92.0
75+30.60.428.70.8

Of all the adults included in the survey, 31.4% of them had experienced trauma. The results showed that reliving the event was the most common symptom at 22.9%. It was closely followed by increased arousal at 19.1%, while avoidance was at 11.3%. Of the 31.4% that had experienced trauma and symptoms of PTSD, only 4.4% were actually screened positive. For more information on PTSD statistics see here.

Call Us Today For Free Treatment

Living with PTSD can be difficult, but there are treatments that can help you cope with symptoms and regain a good quality of life. Many people are not aware that they might qualify for free PTSD treatment, so call our team today on 020 3870 4868. Alternatively, you could use our convenient online contact form to have us contact you at a time that suits you best.

Additional Reading

The above guide was put together to provide some key information on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD can be caused by many situations that put a person under severe stress or physical injury. Below we have included some other injuries that can be caused by an accident or traumatic event.

Mind.org.uk PTSD – On this link to MIND.org.uk website it explains what post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD After A Accident The Health Experts – General overview on PTSD after a accident.

Fractured Spine – This article covers the common causes, signs and treatment for a fractured spine

PTSD Overview – For signs, treatments and diagnosis of PTSD from the NHS

Every Mind Matters – For further information and PTSD specific support, see here.